ONE Nation and the WA Nationals are set for a power-sharing arrangement in the WA Upper House after the March 11 state election which would see sensible negotiations to drive rural policy outcomes, says federal Liberal rural O’Connor MP Rick Wilson.
But the WA Liberals number two Agricultural Region candidate and Wickepin farmer Steve Martin has warned about the possibility of federal Senate “chaos” being repeated, if independent and minor party candidates gain control of the WA Upper House.
Mr Wilson spoke out after the WA Nationals recently did a preference deal with the Greens placing them ahead of the Liberals in Upper House regions.
He said that deal was “not going to go down too well” with the Nationals’ voter base in regional WA and was “retaliation” for another arrangement where the WA Liberals agreed to preference One Nation ahead of the WA Nationals in the Upper House, in exchange for Lower House preferences.
Mr Wilson said he was pragmatic about the preference arrangement and its overall goal of retaining government for the Liberals who have held a power-sharing arrangement with the Nationals, in the past two terms of government.
“The first and only game in town is retaining government and if One Nation preferences can help us do that, then so be it,” he said.
“The problem that the National party have is they don’t have candidates running in metropolitan seats that we need to hold onto.
“One Nation have a lot more to offer in a deal than what the Nationals do so the WA Liberal state director has done the right thing to secure preferences that will hopefully get us over the line in metropolitan seats and retain government.”
Mr Wilson said he believed One Nation would “certainly” win three or more Upper House seats at the upcoming WA election, in the Agricultural Region, Mining and Pastoral and South West and potentially another one in the Agricultural Region.
He said One Nation would then have “partial balance of power” given the WA Nationals already effectively had that status.
Post-election, he believed the situation would be similar to the federal Senate where effectively legislation can’t be passed by the Coalition government without agreement from the Nationals and One Nation.
“I think regional people can be reasonably confident that their interests will be looked after in the WA Upper House by both One Nation and the Nationals but also our very good Upper House Liberal members like Jim Chown or Steven Martin,” he said.
“I think in fairness to One Nation they have very little infrastructure and few resources so their policies are being cobbled together in a rush and maybe the full implications haven’t been worked through.
“I’m sure there will be issues the two parties won’t agree on but they’ll be pragmatic like they are in the Senate in Canberra and in most cases a sensible compromise will be arrived at.”
Mr Wilson said One Nation’s negotiating skills and meant they had “a lot more credibility this time around” with party founder and leader and Queensland Senator Pauline Hanson being “smart about what she supports or opposes”.
He said that was unlike Tasmanian independent Senator Jacqui Lambie who “opposes everything because she hasn’t got her way on another policy which is not constructive”.
“That effectively means she’s dealt herself out of the game but Pauline Hanson has dealt herself into the game and I think the government sees her as someone they can do business with,” he said.
But in a warning against regional Western Australians parking their votes with minor parties, Mr Martin said the 12-member Senate cross-bench had been a challenge for the federal Coalition government to pass important legislation.
“We’ve had Clive Palmer's crew, we've had Rodney Culleton from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and a couple of other minor parties in the federal parliament and the result has been destabilising,” he said.
“Look at the mess with the last minute nonsense over the backpacker tax.
“The Coalition quickly realised there was a problem with the initial proposal and attempted to fix it, but had to try and work around Culleton, (Victorian independent Senator Derryn Hinch) and Lambie having different views at different times
“And we know who suffered as a result – the farmers relying on backpacker workers.”
Mr Martin said a similar situation after the March 11 election would risk Liberal Party driven legislation and election commitments like the $110 million investment in a dedicated live export loading berth at Kwinana and overdue upgrades for schools at Esperance, Katanning and Narrogin, through the release of equity from Western Power.
"Of course we are not assuming anything on March 11 - the result will be close - and if we are fortunate enough to form government we will need an Upper House capable of supporting our legislative agenda and election commitments,” he said.
“I know there are lots or independents and minor parties running in this election – 17 in the Agricultural Region I believe – but I would urge people to have a hard look at the track record and credentials of the candidates and parties.
“At a time when the economy is in transition, this state needs a government that will continue to make decisions and implement sensible, practical policies to create jobs, encourage investment in the key industries of agriculture, mining and resources and tourism.”
Mr Martin – also a Wickepin Shire councillor, said he’d been campaigning across the Agricultural Region which extended from Kalbarri to Cranbrook and all way to Esperance and heard from people who wanted more from their members of parliament.
“The pace of development and growth in WA has been frenetic for the best part of a decade and communities are anxious about being left behind or are not comfortable with the pace of change,” he said.
“We need to do a better job of listening.”
Mr Wilson said Rod Culleton’s election at last year’s federal poll and subsequent disqualification by the High Court, and a Federal Court bankruptcy, following a debt-claim by former Wesfarmers Dick Lester over a farm property lease and sale agreement and sale of oats contract at Williams, was a warning about vetting candidates properly.
He said the saga may have “shaved” a couple of percent off the One Nation vote but at the end of the day voters didn’t vote for Rod Culleton they voted for One Nation and Pauline Hanson.
And in the WA state election “they’ll be voting for Pauline, not whoever they put up in the various seats,” he said.
“It may have done a little bit of damage to the One Nation brand but it won’t impact their vote hugely, and it’ll still be a strong vote across regional WA,” he said.
“But it’s a stark warning about voting for someone who is passionate about just one single issue and those people being quite obsessive about that single issue, and in Rod Culleton’s case it was about the banks and how he’d been hard done by.
“But government is about making decisions across a whole range of policy areas and you can’t come to parliament with just a single focus, like banks.
“I also think One Nation did a pretty poor job of vetting the candidate.
“A couple of phone calls from me to a few people in the area that Culleton came from, made it pretty clear he had a fair bit of baggage in some of his business dealings and of course the Dick Lester case was the most notable one.
“I think it’s a lesson to One Nation that they need to put a bit more effort into ensuring their candidates are of appropriate character.”